6 Things Every Startup CEO Can Learn from Chess

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: March 2, 2018
Image credit: totojang1977/Shutterstock

In chess and in business, every move counts. Here's what startup CEOs can learn from this game of logic.

I have loved chess since I was a child. My grandfather used to play with these beautiful wooden carved boards and pieces. I can't remember any single day when I wasn't playing the game.

Even now, before starting my day, chess has to be my wake-up coffee. When I need focus, chess comes to my aid as a shield. This game is more like a therapy and strategy planner for me.

However, if you look at it theoretically, chess is all about strategy planning in the field. When I first thought about being an entrepreneur, the game held my objectives. The meetings, contracts and competitors are all like any game of chess.

Let me tell you the six most basic chess tips that helped me when I started my own business.

1. You Need Purpose

Purpose is a small word, with a lot of theory in it. In chess, every move counts. Each piece has its own place and importance. You can’t run a company without careful planning and approach. There are people better than you, some are the big sharks in your field and successful too.

Thus, every move, innovation and setup is going to count. You can’t own a million dollar company without having an insight and purpose. Planning with your resources to build a strong force is going to need a purpose. So, see what your purpose is, and how you can effectively use it.

2. Make Plan A, Plan B and Plan C

Now, here is something interesting. Every problem has a solution, and every solution has a problem. At the start, your business will face a lot of problems, mainly with cash and target audiences. Your competitors are doing everything that they can to reach your customers. If you aren’t doing anything different then you are already losing the game. In chess, players always have a plan A, plan B and a plan C. Therefore, your business moves also need to be redefined with plans.  

You might be a very good player, but in the end, it’s not about playing well, but winning on your terms. So, counterplan every new idea or policy or even a product.

3. Every Piece Is Important

Your king, queen and knight are valued pieces, but what about the pawns? Or is the rook there for decoration? When it comes to chess, not a single piece is out of line. Each of them has their own value and game-changing ability, just like the idea of your business approach. Every employee and customer is important. Your competitors are essential, but so are your employees and customers.

Most people who consult with me are worried and focused on their opponents. But that’s not the way to deal, either in chess or business. Playing safe is not an idle line. It has meaning, to go with the theme of being overly-cautious. Look out for assets in your employees and life-long customers in every sale.

4. Learn From Your Mistakes

You made a mistake. So what? Everyone does that. One fail move doesn’t imply that in the end, you will lose the game. Every mistake teaches you something. If you lose a piece on the chess board that means that you have to be careful with the rest. The actionable-item here is additional strategic forecasting.

Samsung had a disaster with Note 7 last year. Did the company close? No, they emerged with Note 8 and more gadgets to win their customers. So, if you face failure, emerge-out with more options, and learn from your mistakes.  Nothing is permanent, not even a missed business bid.

5. Consider The Whole Board

You have a board full of chess pieces. Maybe you get to do the opening and make the first move. Are you planning to just go about it without thinking? No, that is a wild mistake. You have to settle down, think about your options, and then make the first move. Every opening is a blessing in your business, but again, you have to play safe.

Consider your options, finances and the ability to meet deadlines. Seizing every opportunity without a backup is not healthy. The learning curve works best by seizing the right opportunity and then making a well-planned move. Analyze the situation, see the pros and cons – and then bid. Use your business tools effectively. Calculate the loss of sales, and then see if you can offer any deals or promotions to cover for them.

6. Don’t Stall After Temptations

When I first started playing chess, I was very tempted with moving the queen and king. This usually led me to either lose all the pieces or sometimes the whole game. My king used to be snatched, and boy, that did hit hard. I learned from that the need to gain focus. The ins-and-outs of my game needed to be reformed. And only then was I able to protect my king.

It's the same with any startup business. You have to look for ways that can engage the entire board. Usually, competition magnifies the playing ground, but if you lose focus, you won’t win. Your ability needs to be reformed to seize extra chances for beating your opponents. Use resources effectively to get to your customers. Try SEO, social media, word-of-mouth and content marketing to reach your customers. Be available where they are. That’s how your business will grow to the next level.

6. Apply Chess Techniques, But Know Your Business Too!

Real-life business isn’t just a game of chess. Not all your competitors will play nicely. They will attack whenever they want and will ruin your reputation at any cost. But chess teaches you how to focus, play defense, and plan your moves.

Every game of chess starts with a new strategy. Each of your pieces plays their part to let you win. The more focused you get, the more you learn. Similarly, you get to apply these tactics in your new startup or a fresh campaign. You see your rivals and study their playing pattern. Your thoughts get organized with a purpose to win. And, even if you lose, you will do that with a grace.

See, not all the games are about winning, but also about learning from your mistakes or your opponents mistakes.

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